|Fr. Kevin and the Sheriff discuss the murder investigation|
The two hour plus ride back to Dollyville felt a whole lot longer. The Sheriff drove grim faced, the fingers on his left hand gripping the steering with more force than required. At the far end of the seat, Maureen watched the scenery fly by, waves of noticeable bitchiness rolling off her tense shoulders. Fr. Kevin felt like a piece of cheese sandwiched between anger and discontent, and when the truck finally pulled in front of the rectory, he almost jumped out of his seat in a rush to have the ordeal over.
Beckett left the engine idling, and dug through the truck bed for their belongings. Despite attempts by Kevin to engage him in conversation, the Sheriff was silent until he and Maureen turned to leave. "I apologize, Miss O'Kenney for my harsh words regarding my missing fi...," he paused, "regarding Cassie... McKreedy It appears you are the better judge of character, as it seems I have been made to look like an ass." Sliding back into the truck, he leaned across the seat to speak through the open passenger window. "Father...I'll be in touch." And putting the truck in drive, he accelerated down the street, leaving both Kevin and Maureen standing with mouths wide open.
The weeks before Christmas are some of the busiest for most churches, and Holy Family was no exception. Fr. Kevin had just finished rehearsal with the youth group's pageant members, and was in the process of pulling out the holiday decorations. Without a maintenance man, the heavy lifting was left to him, and added yet another responsibility to his ever growing list. He had invited Maureen to join him over at the church, but she had begged off, preferring to stay at the rectory and work on the parlor tree.
Since their weekend at the cabin, she had been quiet and sad, asking only once if he had heard anything regarding the baby, while carefully avoiding mentioning the Sheriff by name. Kevin had hoped to chat with her about future plans, but in her current state of moodiness, he thought it unwise.
Secretly, he sympathized with his sister. He too missed the camaraderie Beckett offered. Away from his Boston home, the Sheriff was the closest thing he had to a buddy. Despite their polar opposite personalities, they enjoyed each other's company, and had developed a sense of mutual respect, as well as a similar taste for micro brews, billiards, and Irish whiskey. Several times in the past three weeks he had thought about picking up the phone and giving Beckett a call. But the awkwardness of the time spent at the cabin kept him from doing just that, and instead, he busied himself with pastoral duties. So when, not ten minutes later, the Sheriff pulled open the church doors, Fr. Kevin was sure the Lord worked in mysterious ways. Or at least had a sharp sense of humor.
The priest walked down the aisle to meet him half way. "Afternoon, Sheriff. Long time, no see." He knew it was a lame thing to say, but was at a complete loss to think of anything more clever. Beckett stuck out his hand to shake, and Kevin reciprocated, thinking the whole greeting was weird. They had never felt the need to shake hands before.
"Sorry I haven't gotten back to you, Father. Things have been...hectic. I wanted to get as much information as possible before I talked to you. Do you have a few minutes?"
"Of course I do. I'm finished here for the afternoon." They walked to the front of the church, and Kevin pointed to the first two pews. "Have a seat Sheriff, unless you would like to discuss this in the privacy of the sacristy, or even the rectory?"
"No. Here is fine, thank you." He slid across the pew, while the priest sat across from him, one pew in front.
"Are you here on business, Sheriff?" Kevin tried to keep the tone of his voice light, but he could feel the knot growing in the pit of his stomach.
"Business? Yeah, you could say that." Beckett leaned forward, and folded his arms on the back of the pew in front of him.
"Your business...or mine?" Kevin asked. In the light from the altar area, he could see the weariness in the Sheriff' face. Ted looked like a man heavily burdened. One who had not slept well in several nights.
Becket smiled, and it looked out of place with the rest of his body language. "Maybe a little of both, Father O'Kenney." He glanced around the church. "Is Maureen around?"
"No, she's over at the rectory. Putting up the Christmas tree. Or so she said. If you need her, I could call over there."
"God no! I was hoping she wouldn't be here. I'm not really in the mood to 'eat crow' right now. I wanted to run a few things by you first."
"Go right ahead then. I'll help in any way I can."
The Sheriff reached in his back pocket, and pulled out several sheets of paper. "The investigation of both the murder, and the baby, have been in full swing over in Plymouth County. Sheriff Fenton is an old friend, and he's been keeping me in the loop." He lowered his eyes to the floor. "Unfortunately, I haven't been returning the favor...for reasons I'll get to in a few minutes." He handed one of the sheets to Kevin. "Look familiar?"
The sheet was covered with what appeared to be mug shots, and when Kevin looked closer, he was shocked. "That looks like your...uh...like Ms. McKreedy! And the blond...? Is that the poor dead woman?"
"Unfortunately, you're right on both accounts. The dead woman is Elizabeth Ann Donahue...alias Liz O'Connell, Lizzie McKreedy, Elizabeth Michaels, and Liz Kelly. Among other names. These were the only official aliases on file, though I'm sure there are more we aren't aware of. The woman on the left...the strawberry blond...is non other than my..um..former fiancee...Cassandra Maeve Donahue. She also has a string of phony names...Cassie McKreedy being only one of them." He frowned and took the sheet back from Kevin's hands. "She lied about everything, Father. Her name, her background. Even her damn age and birth date! She told me she was 28. Turns out she'll be 33 next month. I can't believe I was such an ass."
"I don't know what to say, Sheriff. She had us all fooled. When I first met her, she had me convinced that she had lived here in Dollyville all her life. Grew up in the same house she now owned after the death of her parents. Later, I found out that she was just renting that Colonial. The original owners were away in Europe. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why she went through so much trouble to make up a story like that. Why not just tell me the truth?"
"Because lying is what she does best, Father. She's made a career of it. Although it appears that her lies are beginning to catch up with her."
"Are the two women sisters? They sure do resemble one another."
" No, not sisters. First cousins. Cassie's ole' man was a seasoned con. Spent the last eight years of his life behind bars for fraud. I guess the daughter and niece picked up where he left off."
"But why was the cousin murdered? How does this all tie in with what went on at the cabin? I'm rather confused."
"Well, it's taken me the better part of the last few weeks, but I've finally made some sense of the whole thing. According to Sheriff Fenton, the autopsy on the dead woman showed that she had recently given birth, so we ran DNA on the vic and the baby. Turns out the murdered girl is the child's biological mother. She must have dropped that infant off shortly before she was killed. Once we identified the mother, her arrest record came up, so we knew she had a history of digital fraud and
theft. When Fenton emailed me these mug shots, I realized Cassie was in some way involved. Did some digging on my own using all the aliases of both women. That's how I found this story from the New Orleans Picayune data files." He handed a stack of copied sheets to Kevin, who began skimming the report.
Kevin read the bulk of the story, and looked at Beckett with a puzzled expression. "So this all has to do with a robbery at a laundry company? Seems a rather extreme reaction to theft."
"That's where you're wrong, Father. There's a lot more to this story than that reporter covered. I checked around. That cleaning service was owned by a certain Vincent Marzano. Are you familiar with the name?"
"Can't say I am. Should I be?"
"Marzano is a mover and shaker among an established east coast syndicate family. He apparently moved his operations to New Orleans somewhere in 2008. Over the past four years, he's launched several successful business around the town, mainly for the purpose of laundering the family's drug money. Law enforcement in most of the Louisiana parishes is pretty corrupt. It was the perfect place to set up housekeeping of this sort."
"So the two women were involved with the syndicate?"
"No, I don't believe it started out that way. It looks like they were fleeing from a con gone bad in Texas, and headed toward New Orleans. They both took jobs with Marzano's company, Speedy Wash. The business cleaned linens and such for restaurants and hotels in the area, and appeared to be doing booming business. Cassie landed a job as a bookkeeper, and her cousin as a receptionist. I don't think they realized who it was they were actually working for, but the profits the place was pulling in was too much of a temptation for seasoned cons. Somehow, they were able to digitally steal about a half million dollars of laundered money. Marzano's people noticed the missing money, and blamed the office manager. He was found dead, face down in a tub of boiling water, his fingers and tongue gone, but no sign of the missing cash. Shortly after his death, both woman left New Orleans. Disappeared."
"And that's when they ended up in Dollyville. Hiding out in some small town where no one would think to look for them."
"At least in Cassie's case. I haven't been able to completely connect Elizabeth to Dollyville, but I'm sure she was here somewhere. That's how she knew to mention you by name in that letter that came with the baby. She must have figured out that Marzano had found them, and was on the run again. I'm not sure if she had warned Cassie or not, although living with the town's Sheriff must have made her able to let her guard down a bit. But finding the body in the woods, in the condition we described, would have spooked her. It's not surprising that she ran off the way she did."
"Do you think Marzano will try and track her down again?''
"It's hard to say, Father. If his money is still missing, he'll keep looking. And he has a nasty reputation for holding a grudge. If he thinks Cassie disrespected him, she won't be safe anywhere."
They were quiet for a few minutes, the story being a lot to absorb. Kevin was the first to speak, not sure if he should venture into the Sheriff's personal feelings. "Despite the terrible things she's done in the past, you did care for her, Ted. You planned on making her your wife. I know how you must be pretty worried about her safety."
Beckett leaned back in the pew, looking suddenly much older than his 34 years. "I'm not sure how I feel. I don't want to see her end up like her cousin. No one deserves to end their days in that manner. But I do feel like I dodged a nightmare." He pulled a small velvet box from his jacket pocket, and flipped it open. Inside, nestled against blue satin, was the largest diamond Kevin had ever seen in someone's hand. "I had planned on giving her this at Thanksgiving. But the weekend was going so poorly, I decided I'd wait until Christmas. Good thing. It would have disappeared...along with my Escalade, my shotgun...and the $1,200 she stole out of my wallet." He snapped the lid back on the box, and returned it to his jacket. "I just can't believe I was so stupid. I'm glad your sister isn't here to remind me of just how much. I'd appreciate if you'd keep this information to yourself, Father. At least for the time being. I just don't need another woman snickering at me behind my back."
"I may not be an expert regarding women, Sheriff. But I think I know my sister well enough to know she wouldn't kick you when you're down. In fact, she'd probably feel bad for you."
"That's almost worse. Sympathy for the dumb, hopeless sap." He rose and stretched, and waited for Kevin to do the same. "I guess I didn't know anything about the real Cassie. She was whoever she wanted to be at that given moment. I went through her closet after we came home, looking for any kind of clue to where she might have gone. I found boxes and bags of designer shoes, handbags and clothes. Most with the price tags still on. She was constantly getting packages delivered, yet, she never seemed to have any type of income. I'm sure now that she was stealing from some unsuspecting person. Probably here in Dollyville. And I never looked into it. Never gave it a second thought. What kind of damn sheriff am I? Sleeping with the biggest thief in town. Totally oblivious to what was happening right under my nose." He shook his head in disgust, and began walking to the back of the church.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Sheriff. I'm pretty sure you're not the first person to lose your heart to a beautiful woman." Once again, a lame statement. It was times like this, Kevin wished he was better at the personal counseling aspect of his vocation.
"You're a nice guy, Father, and don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not sure I need ...or want advice on... relationships... from someone who lives his life celibate. No offense."
"None taken. Although honestly... it's not like I sprang from my mother's womb a priest, you know. Still, I guess you need to work this out on your own." They arrived at the door, another awkward moment in the making. "Is there anything I can do for you? To help with the case? Find Cassie?"
"No. This all comes down to good ole' investigative footwork. Mark my words, Fr. O'Kenney, I will get to the bottom of all of this. Find Cassie. Find that missing money. And end it once and for all."
"Of that I have no doubt, Sheriff. I'm here if you need me."
"Thanks, Father. I appreciate you listening to me vent." He offered a wave of his hand, and walked back to his patrol car.
It was already getting dark when Kevin made his way back to the rectory, so he didn't see the opened door until he was almost on top of it. He frowned, and glumly hoped that it allowed the damn dog to slip out and run away. Calling out to Maureen, he walked into the parlor and stopped dead. The room was a mess, chairs over turned, cushions torn, drawers emptied and dumped in a pile on the floor.
"Maureen? Are you here? Answer me!" He ran through the house, his heart pounding, and cold sweat building on his forehead. Each room was in the same state...and empty. He found Basil stuffed in an upstairs closet, and for the first time since the pup arrived, he actually seemed happy to see Kevin.
But there was no sign of Maureen, and it was obvious there had been some big struggle. He grabbed his cell phone to dial Beckett, when suddenly, the device rang in his hand. He looked at the caller ID, and read a number he didn't recognize. He almost didn't answer, but fearing it might somehow be his sister, he clicked the button.
"Speaking. Who is this?"
"Father...I believe I have something that belongs to you. And I think, maybe, that you have something that belongs to me. I'm offering a trade."
|Fr. Kevin comes home to trouble|
Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus
All Rights Reserved